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Saturday 13 March 2004

(Train just pulled out of Umbertide heading south) So yesterday was comune #78: three new comuni since I've been here, right on "schedule" to cover the remaining 14 by the time I leave.

Sansecondo nothing much at all, but I walked around, best thing a pair of lions; I wonder how many different pairs exist, and whether this one duplicates say the pair in the gardens at Todi (I think not, but I don't remember those that clearly any more).

[image ALT: A ceramic lion (awake). It guards the gate of a building in Sansecondo, Umbria (central Italy).]
[image ALT: A ceramic lion (asleep). It guards the gate of a building in Sansecondo, Umbria (central Italy).]

2 km, Croce di Castiglione, where I saw neither cross nor castle of any kind, and stopping at the alimentari to fill up on water (2 small bottles) and a bag of hard candies to keep the throat busy, 2E15, I asked the woman behind the counter, and she said she has no idea either, though she's often wondered herself. Withal, not much of a place; road immediately after it on the left to Paterna.

2 more km, and crossed into the comune of M. S. Maria Tiberina, still on the flat, peaceful road with about one car a minute; and almost immediately in Gioiello, a town of maybe 200 people on the Aggia river, with a modern church on the road as I came in, but most of the town on a rise next to the bridge:​1 from which good views of the valley W and in the distance pretty high up, Monte Santa Maria Tiberina.

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madonnina on a house in Gioiello.

Road starting to wind and rise a bit more — weather overcast and cold, me in T‑shirt and windbreaker — then rose fairly sharply over the valley to Marcignano on my left. The road itself not exceptional, but with beauti­ful views mostly to the W and S. The 11.4 km from the station of San Secondo went by easily, if with a bit of puffing in spots; the final approach to Monte S. Maria Tiberina, the last say 5 km I had to myself, only the carabinieri on the road, passing me once, then crossing me, then passing me again; but no other car. Snow still on the ground, at first on the shoulders obviously where the plows had mounded it up, but in the last 100 m altitude, in palm-sized pockets in the fields.

If the road to Monte S. Maria Tiberina was easy, navigating the town itself was not: I kept on going round and round in (small) circles, winding up each time at the very top of the paese, in front of the castello and a larger if lower building in very bad shape, the huge stone doors of which made of the same stone as at Castello which wears so poorly; a truck and a couple of workers looked like they were restoring it. After the second bout of this — despite a sign "Municipio" I never was able to find (not that I wanted particularly to see the Palazzo Comunale, but that you'd expect the center of town there and I was told there was even a "piazzetta"); grabbing the only soul I saw in town stepping out of his "alimentari - bar - caffé - ristorante" (I later kidded him that if anyone wanted to eat in town, he had a corner on it), I made what by then must have sounded less like a request, and more like bleating noises, for information — and of course found myself stuck, it being lunch time and all: what the hell, allowed myself to be ushered into a small dining-room up a little staircase behind the bar, and sat down and ate — with the day's train tickets, even 10E at Angelo's for house supplies and my purchases at Croce di Castiglione, I was well within my approximate budget (22E per day), but the 24E lunch pushed me well over and ate into today's as well. Still, food is necessary, and at least I'd paid for it with some exercise, so give it a whirl and see what surprise the Ristorante Óscari might have for me.

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The rather dismal castle of Monte S. Maria Tiberina.

Both the father and his daughter who did most of the waiting on me were proud of their specialità, chicche al tartufo. The simplest thing was to do the Menu della Casa, all easy to rustle up — I'm sure I was their only customer, Friday lunch in early March he wasn't likely to appreciate me ordering the more recondite items even though on the menu. So, crostini misti "caldi e freddi" (C+); the famous Chicche — sort of large meat-filled tortelloni in a cream version of arrabbiata (the main thing I picked up was the hot pepper, although it was liberally sprinkled with shavings of truffle) — C+; tagliatelle ai porcini on the menu, but in fact a tomato sauce (C); grigliata mista, lamb rather good, beef less so, too salty but tasted good (C) served with an insalata mista, which was welcome; after which I was thinking of an icecream or a tiramisú but the plate was already prepared, and I'm glad it was: tozzetti specially good (with candied citron); salame inglese — now I know the name of that thing I'd eaten once before, years ago at Lapigge; and a little puff of a thing filled with some kind of fruit mix and dusted with powdered sugar, which was very good, brushing the edges of an A-: this latter, no name, but a long description passing for one; in my book, since it's Mrs. Oscari's recipe, I'll think of it as torta Valentina. Mr. O. (Emilio) offered me an amaro but I had to decline: after half a small carafe of almost local red, and sousing the dessert in vin santo, the better part of prudence not to walk down miles of narrow, unknown, winding road with a buzz —

As for the church and the "pre-Romanesque altar frontal", ya gotta be there when the priest is, for evening Mass (usually at 6, occasionally at 4) or Sunday Mass. Just in case: Don Ferdinando Rosmini, lives in Città di Castello although finding him is another matter — and since Monte S. Maria Tiberina is miles away from the railroad, this one looks like a lost cause.

Still, Monte S. Maria Tiberina is not Corciano, and I gave the place a fair shake; it also turns out to be farther than I'd thought from the map (no mileage but looked shorter than the way up), another 11 km too — I left at 3:54.

The road down was just as little travelled as the other, but whereas the latter was logical and knew where it was going, plus showed you pretty constantly, the descent onto Castello was impish and had a mind of its own. Calling it a descent in fact isn't that accurate, for one: the first half was rather flat and even had dips followed by climbs, whereas the morning climb had been fairly steady. My afternoon road also alternated between tremendous sweeping panoramas and fits of dark pine woods, as if it'd been ashamed of the other exuberance; Monte S. Maria Tiberina behind me very impressive, hieratic in its fortress-like appearance, and backlighting didn't hurt either: the last bend away from this view I stopped and gazed on her with a sort of twang like the last time I saw [. . .] — not quite as intense or painful of course, but something of the same quality; as in fact I told Mr. Oscari, there are so many places in Umbria that I've probably already seen for the last time, and Monte S. Maria Tiberina may well be one of them.​a

The road went quickly, my legs were fine, and I was on my usual metronomic 6.0 km/h stride — checked it at the kilometer markers against the time on my cellphone — except for a stop now and then to taken in the view (at 8.0 km from Castello, side road about 300 m, marked "Ca' Graziano", the remains of an older than usual church built into a farmhouse; at about 5 km, the hamlet of Uppiano and its church); and in fact at Uppiano is where the road finally decided it was going to get serious about going downhill: I'm rather glad I did this route in the direction I did, the other had some killer climbing. As it was, I had to watch my tendency to pound on descents.

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The church at Uppiano.

Città di Castello road sign at the first stroke of 6 from the still distant church bells; and negotiated the town, to my happy surprise, almost like I lived there, getting to the station in time and without rush. Eventless trip back; pit stop at Angelo's for fette biscottate I'd forgotten in the morning; they commented on my having taken some sun, and I'd noticed it already on the road. Just think, a tan in March!

Anyway, home, and glued to the TV for a couple of hours; nothing one can do, of course, but some kind of participation with the Spanish people. These thugs are doing harm enough to their fellow Arabs, but the tacit support they get from the Arab street does them even more harm — filthy crud.

This morning woke up a few minutes before seven, without the slightest idea what I was going to do, and didn't decide 'til about 8:30 — Monte­castello di Vibio. The deciding factors were the good weather (we're apparently going to have good weather for a week now) and a need not to spend money.

So of course I started the day by spending money, 12E60 at supermarket for Fabuloso, shaving cream, 2 cans catfood, and light bulbs (as I walked out the door, the entrance light popped). Yesterday morning, feeding Big White, I'd become convinced that he was somewhere in the house: it was a relief to find him outside today. I fed him, and left for the station, thinking 0945 train — but today is Saturday, had misread the schedule, train didn't leave 'til 1054: went poking around see if for example S. Croce open — no, but the cloister of S. Francesco was, and found an interesting inscription over a tiny walled staircase.

Trip to PSG and from there to Fratta Stazione, 3E05; and the walk up to Monte­castello di Vibio only 6 km, 2 on the flat thru to Madonna del Piano, then 4 km easy rise into town, at the very end abandoning the car road and taking a steep strada bianca, via Cesare & Luigi Agretti (for a reason I'd discover later) to a little church, the Madonna delle Carceri. The "usual" splendid views thruout, mostly onto Todi, with Monte­molino attractively prominent at one point; nice to be in familiar territory —

And this time with a camera that works, and beauti­fully too: but I'd remembered the town well. It's got just a little less clean, and the famous trashboxes of Monte­castello now for the most part need repainting; but still a very handsome little town. Chunk of the castle being restored. I sat on a stone bench in the v. Niccolò de Lellis right across from a ceramic madonnina and ate my little lunch — about two ounces of rather nasty greasy and too salty sausage; then crossed the town in every direction, and by good luck the large 19c church was open, which I don't remember at all from 1994, with the wonder­ful window-like view from the piazza in front of it.

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The view from the piazza, framed on the left by the church of SS. Filippo e Giacomo.

The city on the hill is Todi.

By greater luck, the Teatro della Concordia open to visitors on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, morning and afternoon starting at 3:30; at 3:05 I saw the door open, went in, saw it very briefly, but, honest American that I am, made my presence known before even taking a picture — and was almost apologetically shooed out of there by the young woman doing the cleaning, but who swore to me they'd open on schedule.

Amused myself by making the inevitable phone call to James from "guess where, your favorite place" and he guessed right. Everything all right at home, Pliny back to normal, humping cats and in and out of the covers a dozen times a night, so that's a relief.

And sure enough, 3:30 two nice young women, volunteers, opened up the theater; history of it interestingly told, and the two Agretti's were father and son, the son only fourteen when he painted the ceilings — not great, but I couldn't have done it at 14 or any other age — theater entirely of wood for structural reasons — for a number of years though not a working theater, the inhabitants used it as a dance hall, in the space now restored to seating. A beauti­ful little space and glad to see it still in fortnightly use now nearly 10 years after the reopening I missed by so little.

A second look at my FCU train schedule — bless 'em, Saturday a very bad day to take the FCU — and I realized I couldn't make it to Todi-Ponte Rio on time; that I had to go right back down to Fratta the way I came. Plenty of time to do it leaving a bit before 4 with train at 5:26; sat and waited, little bench on platform: a regular concert of birds of different species, more than anywhere else so far on this trip.

Return to Umbertide marred by awful schedule (would arrive at PSG at 1755 to leave again only with the last train at 1943); and by paying 4E because I had to buy ticket onboard: no way of buying ticket at unstaffed station of Fratta, nor at Monte­castello, but I was archly told by shaggy-faced conductor that there were two rivenditori somewhere in Fratta, surely one of them must have been open. The town of Fratta of course about a mile or two in opposite direction, never traversed it and would have had no idea where said tickets could be bought (and my experience was this kind of thing very mixed). The FCU seems to have gone downhill by and large since the last time I used them frequently, although the pretence of a single line from Terni to Sansepolcro when in fact it's two distinct lines awkwardly conjoined at PSG — that's nothing new: just that this time I'm on the 2d line.

So — rather than wait at PSG in the disagreeable train station for nearly two hours — I went to Perugia S. Anna and wandered up into town with a vague idea say of photographing S. Giuliana or S. Bernardino; instead met with the passeggiata in full swing, just crawling with people. Wound up hanging around the fountain, photographing about a third of it — can't say I like it that much as a whole, but the individual sculptured panels are quite beauti­ful and now finally completely restored and the big plastic shell removed — before I was interrupted by two different sets of people wanting me to take their pictures in front of it; and wound up talking with the second, mother maybe and daughter, the latter named Jacqueline (after the US president's wife), that run a business, ceramics natch, at 112 v. Tiberina in Deruta. For some reason among other things I told 'em how my father used me as bait filming crocodiles in the Niger — the curious things one tells people, and why should that have come up?

Back down to the station, and home eventlessly; made myself a large plate of tagliatelle with improved tomato sauce: garlic, rosemary, anis, salt, touch of pepper. Decent now, but still needs work. To bed.

Note in the Diary:

1 which for most of the day until I got a good look at a map, I thought was the town of Trévine (since the church had a plaque commemorating a parish priest "of Gioiello and Trevine"), but Trevine in fact about 4 or 5 km from its road sign.

Later Note:

a Not quite yet; I was back in town on April 1st.

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